• Mon, Apr 23 2012

What Is ‘Clean Beauty,’ Anyway?

Like our diets, beauty products have become a huge market opportunity for companies who want to cash in on consumers’ health concerns—so is it any surprise that they’ve also become just as confusing? In the past decade, there’s been a boom in the production of “natural,” “organic,” and even “raw” beauty products, all claiming to improve your health—if only superficially. But very few of us can figure out what’s safe (let alone desirable) to smear on our faces, paint on our nails, and rub into our bodies’ largest organ: skin. What’s emerged as a moniker for smart beauty consumption is “clean beauty“—a term that we think could still use some explaining.

Part of why “clean beauty” has become so popular is that it avoids the terms “organic” and “natural”—both of which are labels applied to many beauty products today, and mean very little. Unlike a bottle of organic olive oil, for example, it’s hard to know just how natural or non-toxic your bottle of organic shampoo really is; unlike food and drug products, cosmetics aren’t subject to FDA approval before they hit store shelves—and the FDA does little to discourage companies from using harmful chemicals (like phthalates and other toxins). In fact, the Environmental Working Group says that only about 89% of the 10,000-plus ingredients used in cosmetics have been tested for safety by the FDA (they only test ingredients in response to complaint).

But beauty products are similar to foods insofar as they can impact our health—for better or worse. Just as the chemicals and additives in processed foods can contribute to chronic health problems; so can the mysterious ingredients in a bottle of hair dye or even perfume. And on the flip side, using good quality products can boast big benefits to your overall health (just like regular consumption of good quality foods).

Currently, it’s up to cosmetics companies to be honest about the quality of their products and accuracy of their labels; unfortunately, many of them aren’t. That means it’s up to consumers to get smart about what they use…which is no easy task. It’s possible to monitor your beauty regimen like you would your diet—by using DIY beauty products, and even ditching some products entirely (we’re big fans of swapping chemical-laden hair products for baking soda and apple cider vinegar). But the fact is, many of us are hard-pressed to give up our acne wash and mascara.

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  • Sarah

    As someone who has long been trying to overhaul my medicine cabinet, I am a big fan of the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” website. It gives a 0-10 rating to each beauty product (0 being least harmful). It also breaks down the ingredients and lists each ingredient’s effect on the body, as well as the amount of testing that has gone into that ingredient. If you find a beauty product you’d like to try, you can look it up in the system. If your particular product isn’t included, you can click “Create your own report,” then copy-paste the ingredients list from somewhere online, and it generates a score for you on the spot. You can also, for example, click on “Moisturizers,” and it will give you a list of all the moisturizers in the database, starting with the least harmful. I couldn’t have done without it when I was searching for clean beauty products to use!